THIS CULTURAL LIFE: ED HARCOURT: All together now: `Relax, don't do it...'

The singer-songwriter loves boxing and a bit of `Lear' - and would like to suggest a new national anthem

What are you currently reading in bed?

I've been reading Brave New World. As well as about five other books. I never went to university so I'm giving myself a literature course. I get my books from a bloke at Portobello market on Sundays and Thursdays. I don't like going to Waterstone's.

Which book have you re-read most?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Or King Lear - I've got the book of that which I had at school with all my notes in it. I like reading it and thinking about the power of redemption and losing your identity. Lines do stick in my head. Mainly the disgusting ones, like "Out, out vile jelly!"

Is your mind an art gallery or a porn cinema? Or if not, which kind of civic building is it?

It's a sex museum. But if I were a building I'd like to be a massive cathedral, something Gothic and ornate, in the middle of nowhere, Tim Burton-style, with big turrets and a cage with a gallows in and me wandering round eating a deer's leg.

What is your secret passion?

Boxing. A lovely Welsh guy is teaching me and I'm going to teach him how to play the piano.

Which painting most corresponds with your vision of yourself?

That Magritte called Painted Plaster Mask - a mask with clouds painted on it. I remember seeing it when I was about 15. I'm an idealist and I find it hard to be realistic about a lot of things, so I identify with it.

What was your main cultural passion when you were 14?

My two elder brothers got me into a lot of stuff like The Doors and Nick Drake and Henry Rollins. I used to listen on my Walkman, in my room at school. I went to one of those army schools, Wellington. We used to go down to this hut in the woods called the band hut and smoke and listen to Nirvana and Guns N' Roses.

What would your ideal alternative career be?

A marine biologist, exploring the deep. I was in ecstasy watching Blue Planet. My first album was called Here Be Monsters after sea creatures. I dream about being underwater - it must be some kind of Freudian womb thing. It scares the shit out of me too. I don't think I'd ever want to deep-sea dive. I can handle snorkelling but even then I'm a bit scared.

And the realistic alternative?

Music teacher at an all-girls Catholic school.

Least disposable pop song?

"Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. That could be the national anthem. I'd like to hear the Queen singing it.

Most disposable piece of classical music?

I got sent out at school for laughing when they put on Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. I couldn't stop laughing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Don't get me wrong, I like dissonant music like Steve Reich. But Britten just makes my skin crawl. There's no light and shade.

What's the soundtrack to your life at the moment?

I've got my iPod here. Recent tracklisting: Howlin' Wolf, Randy Newman, Ray LaMontagne, Robert Wyatt, Roy Orbison, Willy Mason, Chet Baker, Tom Waits, Eels, a duck in an echo chamber, Wild Boar, Cake, Billie Holiday, Loudon Wainwright, Coco Rosie, Lucinda Williams, Will Young...

What would you save first if your flat was on fire?

I'd grab as many guitars as possible. I'd probably save this little puppet bear. It's so close to my heart.

Have you had it since you were little?

No, I bought it last year in Toronto. When people come to my house, I make him stare at them and then get closer and closer, trembling a bit as if he's about to attack them. I'd save my laptop. Oh God, and all my tapes... I'd probably die saving things.

So you do die and get to heaven. Who do you want to meet first?

Oliver Reed, Ernest Hemingway, Bukowski, Audrey Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Cook, Elizabeth Taylor. Oh no, she's still alive.

What cultural item would you most like to steal?

The big statue of Jesus Christ in Brazil. I don't think they'd notice. I'd love to have that in the back garden. I'd look out of the window every day and talk to it. Do confession. I'm not religious but I'm a spiritual person.

The single `Loneliness' (EMI) is out on 14 Feb. Ed Harcourt plays St James Church, London W1 (020 7734 8932), Sat; King Tut's, Glasgow (0141 221 5279), 18 Feb

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